Kids Can: Empowering Young Learners to Address Global Problems such as Climate Change

In May 2017, I began to work on a project that aimed to involve Grades 5 and 6 students in understanding the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to think about how they could help in addressing the issues and challenges that go with the SDGs. My experience in working with technology tools and in using the design-thinking approach greatly influenced the framework for this activity. As I continued to flesh out ideas for the project, I eventually added essential elements that made the project more student-driven and more practical, but at the same time, still further developing and tapping on the creativity and critical-thinking skills of the young students.

The project slowly became bigger and bigger, which later became an inter-club collaboration that involved moderators and students from grade school clubs, such as the Young Scientists, Social Scientists, Tech Explorers, and SWAT (Students Working with Advanced Tech). This was the beginning of the Kids Can! Innovation Camp.


4 Big Ideas of Kids Can! Innovation Camp

Big Idea 1: At the heart of “Kids Can! Project” is the goal of involving, engaging, and providing children the opportunity to become critical thinkers, creative problem-solvers, and active agents of change.

    • As critical thinkers, they investigate and ask questions about the problems and challenges that the world is experiencing.
    • As creative problem-solvers, they used their talents, skills, and immediate resources to plan, create, test, and improve their solutions to the problems.
    • As active agents of change, they use their ideas and products to influence the people around them to take part in making the world a better place.

In order to do this, Kids Can! Project brings in the United Nations Global Goals or the Sustainability Development Goals of 2030 as a guiding tool for the children.

Big Idea 2: The framework brings design-thinking into the level of young students in the grade school and early middle school.

The phases in design-thinking are incorporated into five simpler steps that children can follow, independently or with the supervision of a teacher. See the diagram below.

Kids Can! Design Framework.jpeg

Big Idea 3: The project is passion-based learning.

This is project also acknowledges the passion of students in creating products. Students will bank on their passion, talents, skills (individual and collaborative) as they participate in creating solutions for the problems they are working on.

Big Idea 4: The project aims to help kids come up with different and genuine solutions.

The kind and nature of solutions that the students can create depends on the nature of the problem they have identified. Hence, possible solutions may include but not limited to:

    • Making or inventing
    • Information and advocacy campaigns
    • Call to action through service
    • Philanthropy


Innovation Rooted in Empathy

The Innovation Camp gave the students the freedom to choose the problem or challenge that they would address and solve. Hence, we saw different global and local problems that tackled bullying, peace, clean water, pollution, recycling, and of course, climate change. The students were given a design challenge worksheet that guided them to uncover and investigate about the problems they were solving and to come out with solutions that would address them.

One important aspect of the design challenge was the essential role of empathy in creating solutions. Hence, we spent time exploring and reflecting on how people are affected by the problems they were experiencing. As seen in their empathy map and exercise, the students explored what people affected by the problems see, hear, and say, their pains and their gains. The empathy map helped the students to deeply focus their solutions to the needs of the people being affected by the problems. It gave them the chance to feel what the people were feeling. It provided an opportunity for deeper and since insight to the experience and to the problems.



Student-Made Projects on Climate Change

In the Innovation Camp, some student projects tacked climate change through zooming in to more specific problems connected with it. The students aimed to address the global problem through working on solutions that could immediately be used in the local community. The students used recyclable materials and other tech tools to work on the prototype versions of their solutions. Here are two sample projects.

Student Project 1: Carpool Campaign

The students who worked on the carpool campaign aimed to give a more visual representation of how carpooling can reduce the amount and effect of pollution in the atmosphere. According to the group, the toxic pollutants that come from cars have been adding to the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which traps more and more sunlight, raising the temperature on earth’s surface. Moreover, this would also lessen the effects of car emissions to one’s health and to the heavy traffic exprienced everyday in major cities.

So, using recycled materials, they imagined a campaign material that would compare the effect of carpooling to the usual drive-your-own-car situations.


Student Project 2: Mobile Game Apps for Segragation

A number of groups also worked on creating simple mobile apps that could teach students to segrate trash properly. It is well-known that human trash has been contributing to the climate change problem. In school, students are taught to segrate their trash properly so that proper disposal is done accordingly. However, according to these groups, their fellow kids are sometimes lazy to sort their trash. Hence, they created simple game apps that could teach other kids how to sort their trash properly. What was amazing in these projects was that the students were able to bring out their passion and curiosity with app development to address the problem. Truly a magnificent work!

The young coders also pitched their apps to the App Jamming Summit in the Philippines, a competition for young coders to design apps that would address sustainability and environmental problems. One of the apps, Sort It, has won in the national app-creation competition for young coders and represented the Philippines in the App Jamming Summit Hong Kong in 2018.


Kids as Agents of Change

Young learners should be given the opportunity to contribute in solving global problems such as climate change, pollution, and other enviromental issues. The ideas they can think of and the work that they can do could amaze us. We just need to provide them the venue and guidance to become problem-solvers. No one is too young to help make the world a better place.

The Innovation Camp has become a great venue for kids to become agents of change, to solve problems that adults usually work on. Through the design-thinking approach, students were able to create innovative projects rooted in empathy for other people. I believe that this is an important starting point in creating solutions. Kids should not just be taught to solve problems. They must be taught to feel for and with others. After all, innovations should be for the goodness of humanity.

Bring the Innovation Camp to Your School

The Kids Can! Innovation Camp framework and documents can be freely downloaded, used, and adapted by other educators, schools, and non-profit organizations. The framework is on its way of being translated in various languages to cater to more audience. I have dedicated a website about the Innovation Camp, which also contains documents, guides, and materials in adapting the Innovation Camp. Visit: for more information. We welcome collaborative projects and translation collaborations. Special shoutout to the members of the first Innovation Camp Team who helped me pilot this project: Jane Hernandez, Sarah Viana, Hilarie Orario, and Michelle Saddul – all amazing teachers in Xavier School.

Let us continue empowering our young learners because they can become agents of change! Kids can!

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